Archive for May, 2019


Is it worth the waiting for, if we live ‘til 84?

I’ve become a huge fan of Bournville Musical Theatre Company in recent years, so I particularly looked forward to their latest presentation – Oliver. And not only did I see the show, I made four separate trips. This meant I could evaluate the performances from both casts of children which had been separated for the run.

Now, anyone who has knowledge of musicals will recognise Food Glorious Food, Got to Pick a Pocket, I’d Do Anything, As Long as He Needs Me, and … the list goes on. And if you think you are not that well up on the show, you’d be surprised how many songs you actually do know: It’s a Fine Life, Boy for Sale, Where is Love, Be Back Soon, Reviewing the Situation and the title song – Oliver. In addition, to those made famous by the 1968 Carol Reed film, there are some great tunes missed out in that medium: That’s Your Funeral, My Name and I Shall Scream. All of these were delivered without exception by a fantastic cast throughout, be they principals or chorus who excelled during Consider Yourself, Who Will Buy and Oom-Pah-Pah.

In the lead roles we had James Whatmore and Billy Stait as Oliver with Hayden Stocker and Jack Smyth (Artful Dodger). As for the rest of the children which included Flynn McBride-Hogbin and Cameron Dews as Charlie, I could not separate which was the best as each were of a high standard. And the same can be said for the entire performances. All top quality. The only criticism I could have would be a lack of inclusion with the children restricted to only boys.

Of the adult roles, I must lay great praise for Sophie Wood as Nancy with the ovations saying it all. Excellent in every department. Now, it’s easy to copy Ron Moody in the role of Fagin but Phil Snowe made this role his own with strong characterisation. As Bill Sykes, Jimmy Van Hear was a truly menacing figure, making me genuinely frightened at times whereas there was good support in the Nancy/Fagin scenes from Rhian Heeley as Bet.

Oliver is a different show in a way due to some scenes being more akin to mini episodes, which, in fact, was how the original Oliver Twist was published beginning in 1837. Of these segments, we first see the workhouse where Kris Evans and Jill Hughes were brilliant as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney. Then we had my favourite part of the show, the undertakers. Jonathan Eastwood gave a sublime depiction of the drunken Mr Sowerberry and was well supported by Karen Lane (Mrs Sowerberry), Natalie Buzzard (Charlotte) and Stuart McDiarmid (Noah Claypole). Finally, there was the Brownlow household with great rapport between John Clay (Mr Brownlow), Colette Preece (Mrs Bedwin) and John Morrison (Dr Grimwig). Credit must also go to the street sellers: Claire Brough, Rachel Fox, Adam Heeley and Lily Moore.

At the helm in direction was Terry Wheddon whose hard work was evident with the results on stage. Also, the fabulous choreography of Chloe Turner. Not an easy task with such a large cast but top drawer on the nights I was there. Chris Corcoran had the job of bringing together the vocals, backing them with a great orchestra. The icing on the cake for a magnificent show.

Now I always like the random and bizarre, and there was no better example of this than one of the street signs on the London cloth. Have you seen the industrious fleas? Okay … And then the voice from the audience during the rendition of I Shall Scream when a child shouted out, “Scream then!” Oh, little things amuse me.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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Okay, the most popular musical in the world comes to town. Now, I’ve experienced Les Misérables in the West End so therefore couldn’t pass an opportunity to see the tour. However, the fact it is so popular means tickets are like gold and despite great efforts, my party was still in Row W of the Birmingham Hippodrome (Three from the rear of the stalls).

Now my only major gripe is with the theatre itself. Don’t charge over £50 for seats with what is essentially a restricted view. In Row W, you’re under the Circle and viewing the stage is somewhat akin to watching through a letterbox. Then, the sound. You’re in this claustrophobic area and the full audio experience doesn’t reach. Think ditching a surround sound system to use a transistor radio instead. There we have the big niggles, so on with the show.

From start to finish Les Misérables is everything you’d expect. Good staging and excellent performances in both acting and voice. Okay, the set is nowhere near as good as at The Queen’s Theatre, London and the revolving stage is sorely missed. But not every theatre is equipped for this, therefore I’ll give the tour the benefit of doubt.

I must first pay great praise to Killian Donnelly (Jean Valjean) and Nic Greenshields (Javert). Both are at the top of their game and could not have been better in the respective solos of Who Am I? Bring Him Home, Stars and Javert’s Suicide. Other great numbers on the night (Not that any were poor) included Master of the House, In My Life, A Heart Full of Love and A Little Fall of Rain. My favourite number, though, is always One Day More, having performed the Javert lines on several occasions.

The character of Marius was Harry Apps who gave a good rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. However, the appearances Marius’ dead friends were not as haunting as I’ve previously seen them. Cosette was portrayed by Bronwen Hanson and for once, it was lovely to see this character less of a Mary-Sue and more realistic as the young woman she would have been, given her upbringing. And a beautiful voice.

The unfortunate Fantine was Katie Hall who delivered I Dreamed a Dream the best I’ve heard. Then there were the Thénardiers (Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann). These roles always add comic relief, surprising for characters so vile, and this occasion did not disappoint. Eponine has always been my favourite, though, so I was delighted with the excellent vocals from Tegan Bannister while Will Richardson was also in good form as Enjolras.

A couple of downsides with the show itself: I did wonder why Eponine changed ethnicity during puberty and it would also have been nice to know which child performers were in the roles on the night. Plus, the consequences of the barricade battle were a let-down without the revolving stage to reveal a tableau of broken bodies on the other side.

The touring production of Les Misérables was directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell while musical supervision and direction was in the hands of Stephen Brooker, Graham Hurman and Ben Atkinson.

So, which is better, the version in the West End or this one? If, I’m honest, I’d opt for the former, but this was still a fantastic show which I highly recommend.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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